The Many Ways the Government Protects the Business of Bottled Water
August 01, 2006
The bottled water industry currently has annual sales amounting to over $35 billion worldwide, and is the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry.
Bottled water is often perceived as safer than tap water. But in fact, tap water often adheres to stricter purity standards than bottled water, and 40 percent of bottled water actually begins as tap water in any case.
In one study, a third of more than 100 bottled water brands tested for contaminants were found to contain chemicals such as arsenic and carcinogenic compounds, at levels exceeding state or industry standards.
Gaps in the Regulations
Although the EPA regulates public water supplies, most bottled water is overseen by the FDA, which is allowed to apply EPA's water regulations selectively. Gaps in the regulations could allow careless or unscrupulous bottlers to market unsafe products.
For example, the FDA imposes no specific requirements regarding proximity of bottled water sources to industrial facilities or waste dumps. One brand of "spring water" was at one point actually taken from a contaminated well in the parking lot of an industrial facility.
The FDA also has no official procedure for shutting down bottled water sources if they become contaminated. And while EPA rules specify that there can be no E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria in tap water, the FDA simply sets a maximum allowable level for the bacteria in bottled water. Products such as flavored, carbonated, soda, and seltzer water have even looser standards.
State StandardsBottled water that does not cross state lines is not even regulated by the FDA, but is subject only to state standards, which vary widely. Forty-three states have one or no government personnel overseeing bottled water regulation. Many states require disinfection, which is sometimes done with chemicals that are potentially hazardous themselves, such as chlorine and ozone gas.